Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sustainable Development

This is a well used phrase and has been a growing part of UK government policy now for 16 years and includes many initiatives.  But what does the statement mean?  More importantly, what does it mean to our way of life?

The UK government has a very clear definition and describes it as:  

Development that meets the needs of the present and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

The phrase attempts to encompass an over all attitude, that it is believed to be required, in order for people to live in harmony globally.  Its origins lie in the United Nations, World Commission on Environment & Development and it has become a concept at the heart of the western political model.

To accept sustainable development as a concept relies on the acceptance that certain major factors come together to promote a standard of living that will allow human beings to enjoy life indefinitely.  The three factors that interact positively or negatively to affect all our lives are the Social, Environmental and Economic spheres of influence.  

When social and environmental conditions are in balance we have bearable living conditions.  When social and economic conditions are in balance, we have equitable living conditions.  When environmental and economic conditions are in balance, we have viable living conditions.  The balancing of all three factors produces sustainable living conditions, the aim sustainable development.

Sustainable development therefore is not limited any particular area in society or field of expertise, rather it can be applied to any situation that affects the social, environmental or economic fabric of society.  In the UK the government has identified four key areas:
  • Sustainable Consumption & Production - Raising quality & efficiency.
  • Climate Change & Energy - Reducing our output of damaging pollutants.
  • Natural Resources - Understanding the limits of life sustaining resources.
  • Sustainable Communities - Improving conditions where we live and work.

Most people are in agreement that applying the principles of SD is at the very least common sense.  Anything we can do to lower our negative impact on the environment, to improve our attitudes towards social responsibility and raise the quality of our local environments can only be a good thing generally.

Allotment gardening has big role to play in sustainable community development and though it may have fallen from favour for a decade or three, it always has. As an island race our rulers long since valued the strength our nation derives from basic self reliance.  But the benefits of allotment gardening reach way beyond the food produced if you apply SD reasoning to judge its worth today.  Just look at Incredible Edible.  Since its beginnings it has gone from strength to strength with towns across the country following the example set in Todmorden.  The combination of a few passionate individuals and committed  local government support has proven the benefits of sustainable community initiatives in working towards Transition Town status.

As we face up to the new concepts SD presents it will be hard for many born in the Century of Self, as we embrace responsible living standards and counter the habits of rabid consumerism. Because something that doesn't benefit much under SD is the poor mans replacement for self esteem - defining himself by what he can buy!


Booklet - Sustaining a Healthy Future - Click Here

Monday, 11 July 2011

Errors - The Devil is in the Detail.

In light of concerns raised by the head of the Allotment Working Group, Councillor Carter and after considerable debate with the Chair of Cowling Parish Council, I have decided to edit my previous post for accuracy.  Councillor Carter has been clear in pointing out that the AWG did not in fact hold a meeting prior to the Parish Council meeting, held 4th July, to discuss public consultation as I had written.

I acknowledge there was in fact no such meeting and sincerely apologize to Councillor Carter for any embarrassment caused to him by my claim.

I have made clear my understanding of events to Mr Perrow and acknowledge his personal opinions made by way of reply.  I also informed him of my intentions to edit the mistakes made previously and in the interest of balance invited him to make a statement to be included in this post in order to find resolution and in the interests of good will between those wanting allotments and the Parish Council.  Unfortunately he neither acknowledged the offer nor choose to accept it.

I also apologize to readers who may have been misled by the comments I made and would like to take a brief opportunity to explain my misunderstanding.

I arrived at the conclusion that the AWG had held a meeting based on comments made during the Parish Council meeting, in relation to an agenda item raising the issue of further consulting public opinion on the matter of allotment placement.  During that agenda item Mr Perrow said the following in support of this idea:

"...we thought... we had a meeting to discuss it.. err Chris.. Councillor Carter unfortunately can't be here... and we do have two sites that we think are viable.  And the recommendation from the working group is that we go ahead, as a working group and arrange a public meeting to show...” 

and later went on to say:

“..and we are now going onto a recommendation from the working group that we go back to the public..”.

and later still:

" which point the allotments working group proposed that we go on to the next step which is a meeting with the public..."

Councillor Barnes (presumably because he is on the AWG) then questioned Mr Perrow about the "meeting" and was tersely reminded that, he was sorry but,
"as previously stated Councillor Carter can't be here", 
and that he should discuss the matter with Councillor Carter.  Councillor Tindale then pointed out that they (PC?) all knew, they've had the emails and Mr Perrow went on to state he (Councillor Barnes) has, 
 "..had the results, I've made sure you've all had the results..".

Mr Perrow was also asked why there was a need to consult the public further and how that would be a valid basis for the Parish Council to come to any decision. After all, even if 5% of Cowling turn out again to make known their views on allotments, it's hardly representative of the whole of Cowling.  He went on to explain how the public must be fully consulted on the issue and that it would not decide the issue once and for all, but would "help" the council to make a decision as to how it would proceed.

The agenda item was then voted on by the Parish Council and was carried in favour of the suggestion presented by the Chair.

It is based on those events that I (and other members of the public) assumed that there had been a meeting of the AWG and that their meeting validated the agenda item upon which the Parish Councilors voted.

As it has now been clearly brought to my attention that I was mistaken and that the AWG had not in fact held a meeting and proposed that the public should be further consulted as I previously stated, I am removing any and all references to my mistaken conclusion from the previous post. 

I look forward to returning the focus of this blog back to allotment and leisure gardening in Cowling, and shall continue to invite positive dialogue with the Parish Council whilst maintaining whole hearted support for further allotment provision.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Listening to Learn.

The written representations have now been submitted to the Clerk of the Parish Council, Mr Andrew Mallinson and the process was finalized and witnessed at the Parish Council meeting last night.  I now trust that the Parish Council will execute their legal duty in support of our statutory claim.  As this chapter of the allotment saga draws to a close I would like to make a few points that I think are worth some consideration generally, though I do so as a personal opinion and not as a spokesperson for the "Allotment lot" or any other "Group" for that matter. Though I would encourage any group of people that feel they are not being represented the way they would like, to fight their corner - that is both the essence and the crux of democracy.  Best summed up by Montiesquieu:

"The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."

I have been waiting for an allotment for well over 5 years and it has taken me almost a year to go from being jostled around on the aptly named "waiting list", to making written representation and in that time I have gained new knowledge, experience, allies & insights.  Looking back over the whole process reveals a picture that, although tied specifically to the subject of allotments, suggests something about an attitude in local government.  I'd like to share the essence of that insight for consideration by anyone involved in or becoming involved in community issues on a local level.

Unfortunately the subjective opinions of local government officials have been all to regular, and more disturbingly adversarial, throughout this process. I wonder, is this a common attitude in the work of some public servants? Some quotes that spring readily to mind include:

"I don't see a need for allotments in Cowling"

"Allotments in the past round here have looked like Soweto!"

"I don't understand why people want allotments when food in the supermarket is so cheap."

"I'm sure it'll just be the allotment lot that will turn up!"

"Have you thought of buying your own land?"

I'm sure it's not all gravy working in local government and I appreciate the need for officials to be adversarial in an objective manner during their work. After all someone has to stand against those that would have it all their own way in society - on the behalf of taxpayers, whilst we're out earning those taxes. Otherwise we might end up with certain people, groups or companies constantly getting widely unpopular decisions called in their favor by local authorities.  Or promises and agreements made by certain, people, groups or companies, (in return for local authority support) not being honored; placing a burden on the community.  But why be subjectively adversarial with the people you want to represent when they invoke their rights?

Why challenge people claiming something both the Crown and Law Lords have decided is a lawful right of the people and have maintained for a hundred years?  Do some local government officials think their personal opinion is beyond the law or the reasoning of the Crown?  Do such subjective view points often over shadow the work of these people?  Is there a common purpose at work here? There's certainly been an all too common disdain shown towards allotments and those wanting them!

Maybe a less judgmental attitude would cut the filibuster in meetings. It might even free up some of their valuable time spent away from their families in the execution of their civic duty. Maybe then the Parish Council could focus on the more thorny, contentious and debatable issues that really would benefit our community from the power of their judgmental appraisal!

We live in a "civilized" society.  We are not governed by the law of the jungle, by the tyrant, the weapon of the warlord, the fear of opinion, by anarchistic consensus or spiritual guidance; but by the law of the land.  A common law, with legal statutes, that sets out a framework within which society functions fairly. This enables stable trading, working, living and recreational environments for the benefit of society as a whole.  The law is not subject to the whims, fancies, snoots or opinions of individuals; it is objective, whatever you care to think, who ever you think you are!

Responsible individuals in society accept the law as a common baseline.  As a result we agree on and work within basic contracts. I agree with you to do a job for payment - I can expect payment from you on completion or use the law to enforce my rightful claim.  I want clean, well lit & safe streets - I pay taxes to pay the wages of those that see to it I have clean, well lit & safe streets or use the law to enforce my claim against the negligence of those I entrusted.  

Essentially - Responsible members of society accept Duties & Obligations in return for Rights & Returns.  Those are the most basic rules of a civilized society, as I see it.  Claiming your rights is not taking something from society - it is claiming that which you have already paid for by accepting your obligations & duties.  

Anyone in public office arrogant enough to let slip their judgmental opinion aimed at those claiming their rights would do well to consider their professional integrity and motivation.  Or maybe just reflect on the words of the 'Bard of Avon' - "Lawless are they that make their wills the law".

Ultimately, it does not matter what any local government official thinks when I claim my rights; regardless of their office, experience or political persuasion.  What does matter is that they act in accordance with the Duties & Obligations they accepted when they decided to represent their community, along with the Rights & Returns that are so easy to accept.  

If I want an allotment, it doesn't matter if I already own land, plan to own land, sold land or rent half a moor - If I claim my rights correctly, I place a duty on my local authority representatives to provide me with an allotment.  

Just as: 

If the local government wants funds, it doesn't matter if they save them, spend wisely, squander them, or embezzle them - if they claim their right to funding from me correctly, they place a duty on me to provide funding.

Swings and roundabouts.

Back to the Parish Council Meeting
It would seem, according to the Parish Council survey, that there is clear demand for allotments in Cowling; unlike the clear opposition to further housing development. More in fact than came forward to join our group or the allotment waiting list.  I wish them all the best in making their claims.  

Still, there was lots said during the meeting that was interesting. The Chair alluding that allotment provision is high on the agenda, and it sounds like it will be treated with "due gravitas"  and "seriousness" by the Parish Council. 

Hmmm.. Should I start looking for a shiny new spade and start doing crunches in preparation for the double digging? Or will this keep until the shops go quiet during the olympics? 

Not sure, so best just keep a close watch on developments.


If the Parish Council is struggling to convert the minutes in order to make them available online - I will volunteer to convert them, so the person keeping the website up to date can also keep the record of minutes current.  I can be contacted at the email address below.